Picking a Vice President is a lot like picking a spouse. For better or for worse, the pair is tied together. Some pairings are happy; others are unhappy. Some pairings lead to mutual gain; some lead to mutual destruction. For presidential hopefuls, it is probably the most vital decision of their campaign. As Trump and Clinton decide their VP picks, here are five cautionary tales of just what could go wrong:

Tom Eagleton, Vice Presidential Candidate for George McGovern (1972)

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To be fair, Tom Eagleton was not George McGovern’s first pick for Vice President. After the party all-stars turned him down, McGovern turned to the B-team candidates—and they turned him down too. In fact, by the time of the Democratic Convention, nine candidates had turned McGovern down. Time was running out for the spurned presidential hopeful—it was last call, and a desperate McGovern needed a mate. After a two-minute phone call with Tom Eagleton, McGovern was sold.

Reports soon leaked that Eagleton suffered from clinical depression, and had even received electroshock therapy. Controversy swirled around Eagleton’s fitness for office. McGovern gave up a chance to get a quick and easy annulment by doubling down on Eagleton, ensuring that he would back Eagleton “1,000 percent.”

McGovern’s word turned out to be slightly less than a 1,000 percent guarantee. After meeting with Eagleton’s psychiatrist, McGovern decided that Eagleton should not be a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes, and asked for Eagleton to resign.

Eagleton served as McGovern’s Vice Presidential candidate for eighteen days. While McGovern was probably doomed from the start against a surging Richard Nixon, McGovern’s failure to vet his Vice Presidential nominee deflated his already struggling campaign.

Dan Quayle, Vice President for George H.W. Bush (1988-1992) 

Incredibly, Dan Quayle served as Vice President of the United States for four years. For most of his presidency, George H.W. Bush silently bore the equivalent of a drunken spouse mouthing off at a Christmas Party. While Quayle didn’t singlehandedly sink Bush’s reelection campaign in 1992, he certainly didn’t help the effort. These “Quaylisms” below speak for themselves.

Quale on voter turnout: “A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.”

Quale on his decision-making skills: “I have made good judgments in the Past. I have made good judgments in the Future.”

Quale on his past qualifications: “I was known as the chief grave robber of my state.”

Quale on success : “If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.”

 Quayle on space: “Mars is essentially in the same orbit…Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.”

“[It’s] time for the human race to enter the solar system.”

 Quale on the Holocaust: “The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history. I mean in this century’s history. But we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century.”

Quale on military strategy: “Vietnam is a jungle. You had jungle warfare. Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, you have sand. [There is no need to worry about a protracted war because] from a historical basis, Middle East conflicts do not last a long time.”

Quale on progress: “We don’t want to go back to tomorrow, we want to go forward.”

Sarah Palin, Vice Presidential Candidate for John McCain (2008) 

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On paper, John McCain had a great chance in the 2008 election. He was a war hero revered for a lifetime of public service. His competitor was a 44-year old with two years of experience in the Senate. With the economy in freefall, McCain could highlight his steady, experienced hand—in contrast to Obama’s inexperience— and this message might just have delivered him presidency. And then McCain chose Sarah Palin.

At first glance, Palin was the total package—a female candidate who could revitalize the ticket with energy, youth, and small-town charm. But then the public learned more about Sarah Palin. She was well read—in fact, she read all the newspapers. She had farsighted insight on foreign policy — she could even see Russia from her house!

As America became acquainted with Sarah Palin, it became abundantly clear that Palin was not qualified to serve as Vice President — let alone hold the Oval Office. The 72-year old McCain chose a candidate who shared all of Obama’s inexperience but lacked his intellectual credentials — and placed this candidate a heartbeat away from running the free world. In the same way that the Eagleton pick undermined faith in McGovern’s decision-making, many questioned McCain’s leadership as he whiffed on the most important choice of his candidacy. McCain’s staff blames Palin for their loss to Obama — and they may be right.

Spiro Agnew, Vice President for Richard Nixon (1969-1973)


When asked why he would keep Spiro Agnew on the ticket for his 1972 reelection, Nixon quipped: “Because no assassin in their right mind would kill me.” Nixon had snuffed Agnew from his inner circle and even tried to lure his Vice President into resigning by offering him a job as the head of a TV network. Fearing an electoral backlash from Agnew’s conservative supporters, however, Nixon kept him on the ticket.

Soon after the election, Agnew was accused of bribery, tax evasion, and extortion, among other charges. A few days after declaring “I will not resign if indicted! I will not resign if indicted!” he resigned in disgrace.

Agnew briefly reentered public life a few years later by criticizing Gerald Ford’s policy on Israel — and was rebuked by the president for his “unsavory remarks about Jews.” In later years, he would go on to write a novel about a Vice President who was “destroyed by his own ambition.”

John C. Calhoun,  Vice President for John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson(1824-1832)


John Calhoun first served as Vice President for John Quincy Adams. Halfway through his term, he switched sides to Adams’ rival, Andrew Jackson. In 1828, Calhoun ran against Adams as Jackson’s Vice President.

But betraying one president wasn’t enough for Calhoun. As Andrew Jackson struggled to enforce the “Tariff of Abominations” in South Carolina, his Vice President publicly argued that South Carolina should nullify the tariff. At stake was the viability of the federal government—and Calhoun was determined to beat Jackson.

In a famous episode at a state dinner, Jackson directed a toast to his Vice President turned rival: “Our Union: It must be preserved.” Calhoun responded with a toast of his own: “The Union. Next to our liberty, the most dear.” Shortly after, Calhoun made his way down to his home state of South Carolina to help push his state towards nullification. An angry Jackson told a South Carolina congressman to “give my compliments to my friends in your State, and say to them, that if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.” It was a direct threat to Calhoun — and Calhoun got the message.

Jackson’s threat to hang Calhoun certainly chilled relations between the two men. But Calhoun would make things worse. Calhoun’s wife Floride marshaled the wives of Jackson’s cabinet to shun Peggy Eaton, the wife of one of Jackson’s favorite cabinet members. John Calhoun watched as Floride’s machinations escalated into what we now call the Petticoat War. This war of the wives resulted in Jackson’s cabinet falling apart.

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But Calhoun wasn’t done. Calhoun resigned the Vice-Presidency more than two months before his term was up so he could fight Jackson’s federal program in the Senate.

While the other contenders were well-meaning failures, John Calhoun actively tried to undermine both of the presidents he served. For this reason, John Calhoun wins the award for the worst Vice President in American history.

Honorary mention:

James Stockdale, Vice President of candidate Ross Perot (1988)